Somehow Serbia managed to waste every positive contribution by two time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic to fall to a stunning upset at the hands of Italy in the round of 16 at EuroBasket
With 6.19 left on the clock, Nikola Jokic sat by the scorer’s table waiting to come in as his Serbia side trailed 79-70. It really wasn’t supposed to go like this.
The question before this game was would Italy finally give Nikola Jokic and Serbia their first true test of EuroBasket 2022. The two time MVP had everything his way in group play in Prague but the quirk of tie-breakers meant they got a surprisingly highly fancied opponent in their first knockout game.
Within 5 minutes we appeared to have our answer. Italy were being run ragged by Serbia on both ends and their coach, Gianmarco Pozecco, got a technical in that span for ludicrously over appealing a non foul call. Just playing this version of Serbia, led by the back to back NBA MVP Jokic, can lose teams games before they even start and it felt that way very early in Berlin.
Jokic was enjoying himself, he got a few scores from the stripe early on but far more of his work was in his passing game and on D. A lovely pass to Nikola Kalinic ended up being a four point play. When he was given a chance to get in the offensive paint, mostly denied by his teammates shooting tremendously well from outside rather than Italy’s efforts to stop him, there he was to casually grab an offensive board and make the putback lay-up.
It’s how easy it looks for him that makes Jokic so terrifying. Whereas the athleticism of a Giannis Antetokounmpo or fury of a Luka Doncic bring assorted nightmares, there’s something about a guy being able to just big brother you without looking like it is taking much out of him.
That’s the way it has been for Jokic throughout this competition and it was how easy the success looked that had people questioning Serbia. When you beat opponents by an average of 21 points a game, what will you do when you meet a serious challenge? We might have been better off asking if there are that many serious challenges in Berlin for Jokic and Serbia.
BallinEurope is ramping up its YouTube game this season. Subscribe to our channel now for player exclusives, analysis videos, and much more.
Maybe these battles would be more interesting if Jokic was forced to carry a coffee in one hand while on the floor? He was more likely to fall prey to the threat of a hot beverage than be stretched by this Italy side.
As has so often been the case for this tournament’s big three superstars of Jokic, Doncic, and Antetokounmpo, the scale of his impact was most noticed when he sat. Italy actually managed to live with Serbia when Nikola Milutinov stepped in to give the Denver Nuggets man a break. Once he was back it was business as usual, with a simple drive inside to get the machine rolling again. Another offensive board and the lead was in double digit territory again.
The cries of MVP had begun after just 1.29 of play so it wasn’t exactly a shock that they were ringing around as their hero pushed this team further out. The tournament’s big three seem to have fans trying to fight it out to see who can start roaring it first in their games.
The joy of the threat was best expressed as Kalinic looked like he was going to pass to Jokic from the Italian baseline. Three men looked to close down on Jokic before Kalinic had even begun the passing action, which meant Marko Jagodic-Kuridza was wide open for the three instead.
By the time Jokic sat again, he had racked up 19 points in 13 minutes along with 7 rebounds…of which 6 were offensive boards.
Unfortunately, the obvious concern for his side kept on raising its head. When Jokic wasn’t on the floor, this Serbia team looked far more vulnerable defensively. There’s no Bogdan Bogdanovic, or Boban Marjanovic, or Nemanja Bjelica in this roster. There’s certainly depth in terms of quality contributors but that top tier talent they need in order to maintain the onslaught without Jokic isn’t quite there.
It truly hit disastrous proportions in the third as Italy managed to tie things up with 3 minutes left. This was with Jokic on from the start. Pozecco managed to get himself ejected on a second T but that didn’t slow Italy’s charge. A Marco Spissu three gave them the lead for the first time on the night and the pre-tournament favourites were being given an awful fright.
Jokic had his double double by the end of the third but it seemed like he’d have to put up Lauri Markkanen hero ball numbers to get his side over the line. When the Joker had his first break of the second half, there was just a two point lead for Serbia and things were awfully nervy.
Awfully nervy felt like full grown panic when Spissu made his sixth three of the night to move Italy into a 6 point lead. By the time it had reached 79-70, it was time to call on the back to back MVP to somehow save his side. As he backed down on Nik Melli, the turn came and then the shot. Blocked by Melli. Up the other end and Achile Polonara catches Jokic wrong footed. The Italy lead is 12 and Serbia is in full panic mode.
At no point throughout this tournament has anyone tested them like this. At no point in the first half when Jokic was on the floor, did Italy look like they could live with Serbia. Now this sluggish Serbia side was in big trouble and then things got really crazy. The most unlikely of four point plays came from the Joker with a very long three when he knew he was being fouled eventually being given by the refs.
It wasn’t close to enough. Italy had, as Pozecco kept shouting in the mixed zone afterwards, shocked the world.